Key quarterback traits include both the tangible and intangible. The tangibles would be arm strength, athleticism, and size. The intangibles are things like ability to lead, desire, and the kind of fearlessness that can pick up a first down when a team absolutely needs it.
Decision-making can float between both worlds. The preparation and results are certainly tangible, but sometimes the ability to process and understanding of what a quarterback is seeing is completely intangible.
Without the decision-making, however, nothing else matters. Arm strength is no match for bad decisions. Poor decision-making can turn a 6-foot-6 quarterback into a much shorter player as he slinks back to the sideline after yet another interception. And everybody has the same athleticism sitting on a bench.
When it comes to Ohio State redshirt freshman starting quarterback CJ Stroud, he has the necessary tangibles and intangibles, and his results this year bear that out. Stroud has thrown for 3,862 yards and 38 touchdowns with five interceptions in 11 games this season. He has completed 70.9 percent of his passes and has thrown an interception in only one of the Buckeyes’ last eight games.
After going through the film in preparation for this game, Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley was immediately impressed by what he saw from Stroud’s decision-making.
“For a young player, very good decision-maker. Gets the ball out quick, understands when pressure is coming, where to go with the ball,” Scalley said. “Very good athlete. He’s looking to throw first, but man, when he takes off, he can run. He just – for as young as he is, like I said, very football savvy quarterback.”
Given the production and the skill set, Stroud is not the kind of quarterback that Utah gets to see all the time. In fact, when asked if Stroud was comparable to anybody the Utes had faced in the past, Scalley eventually came up with a name — former Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert, who is now one of the top young quarterbacks in the NFL.
“Justin Herbert is a guy that understood as well coverage and how to attack coverage, getting some pre-snap reads as to what you’re doing, where to go with the football based on what coverage you’re in,” Scalley said. “Also dangerous running the ball. So I would say those two.”
Stroud now has 11 career starts under his belt and even though he is still very young, he has operated like a veteran. After throwing an interception in each of his first three career starts — all while operating with an injured shoulder, he was given the week off against Akron to fully rest and recover.
Since that point, Stroud has thrown 30 touchdowns and just two interceptions in his last eight games. All told over his last eight starts, Stroud is throwing for 362.4 yards per game and completing 73.8 percent of his passes. He has three games of 400 yards passing in this eight-game stretch as well.
It’s clear that Stroud has been able to grow throughout the season and the more experience he gained, the more better he played.
But the process started long before September turned to October.
“I think everyone can see the plays he makes as far as the ability, decision-making and throws,” Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. “But I think the two things to me where he’s grown a lot, just being a young player, is the way he has prepared in practice, which you guys don’t see, the time he puts in for a young player studying the game, watching tape, and grasping that information and then taking the information that he has to the field has been outstanding.
“So his ability to become a great preparation player as a young player is off the chart. And the second thing is he’s played, he’s become in his own right, in his own way, a pretty good vocal leader for our team. Early in the year, you’re a quarterback, you’re supposed to lead, but you’re kind of quiet.”
Wilson has also found Stroud to be a great vessel for feedback about the offense as he sees it unfold in front of him on the field.
“As the year went on, not that there’s a lot of team meetings or not that he is grabbing the bull by the horn and doing everything, but you see him more comfortable speaking up, talking to players, telling them what he sees,” Wilson said.
“There was a play the other day, he said, ‘Coach, if so and so does this, that safety is going to concern me a little bit.’ I said, ‘hey, he actually ran a little bit wrong, but I agree with your point.’ I shared that with my player. So his ability to get more and more comfortable communicating, talking and his ability to prepare has been awesome. As a young player, that’s why he’s had such a great year and he sets up to have a great career for us.”